In Kenya, 3,000 babies are born every day. This means we have a million more Kenyans to feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare for, every year. The data is sobering, a little intimidating even. On whose shoulders does the challenge of addressing these pressing issues fall? Does it rest solely with the Government, or should we as private sector players reappraise the role we can play to create solutions?
A good number of key commentators seem to think we should. The World Bank, in its latest Economic Outlook on Kenya, reported that support from the private sector will be required to achieve the Big Four agenda set out by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration. The agenda seeks to improve Kenyans’ livelihoods by going back to the basics: universal healthcare, food security, affordable housing and manufacturing – critical components in the country’s ability to create sustainable development.
It is universally acknowledged that the private sector plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth, beyond building profitable enterprises that pay taxes and create jobs, to creating the kind of social stability necessary for true national development.
This concept found its voice in the 2015 launch of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which unveiled the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Big Four agenda could shape Kenya’s pursuit of sustainable development and shared prosperity. But it will take collaboration, as outlined by SDG 17 on Partnerships for the Goals, to deliver this vision because the Government cannot do it on its own.
The private sector has resources to ensure the communities we operate in are actually capable of consuming what we sell. Our involvement is not charity; we should view it as an investment in our own prosperity too.
Businesses need to look at the bigger picture: we cannot make or sustain profits in an economy whose population is struggling to put food on the table or educate children. This is what informed Safaricom’s decision to invest in what are considered non-traditional services for a telco. In line with our purpose of transforming lives, we asked ourselves what we could do to create an innovative suite of digital solutions targeting key sectors.
Late last year, we launched Digifarm, an m-agribusiness product designed to answer a fundamental question: why do Kenya’s smallholder farmers remain small? Through Digifarm and its sister product Digifarm for Enterprise, we aim to address the inefficiencies that have made farming a complex and unprofitable venture for millions of Kenya’s farmers.
We’re using the same digital-led approach to tackle challenges facing our healthcare system. By collaborating with various partners to, for example, widen the reach of quality, affordable healthcare, we hope to reduce the number of Kenyans visiting Level 5 and 6 hospitals for ailments that can be diagnosed and treated via telemedicine.
Through M-Tiba, the mobile health wallet run in partnership with CarePay and PharmAccess, we are working with the county governments of Kisumu and Isiolo to support the universal healthcare initiative, by using our platform to sign up county residents for the National Hospital Insurance Fund cover. In so doing, we aim to provide medical services to far-flung areas and ensure a better quality of life for Kenyans.
It’s part of our vision of a digital-first economy, a vision that led to creation of the m-Agribusiness and Digital Services departments within Safaricom. Through the latter, we’re exploring opportunities to provide mobile-based solutions to the transport, retail, hospitality, utilities and manufacturing sectors. We want to use technology to enhance efficiencies, reduce overheads and make our products cheaper and more competitive.
We’re looking into how the Internet of Things can be applied to sustainable economic activities; how we can address youth unemployment by digitizing curricula so that the National Industrial Training Authority can expand the reach of Technical and Vocational Education – and therefore develop the skilled labour desperately required in sectors such as housing and manufacturing.
It is this kind of approach to partnership, characterised by commitment to a common goal, willingness to invest, and a long-term, strategic view, that will ensure that businesses not only make profits, but that we transform the lives of those we serve.
-The writer is Director, Enterprise Business Unit – Safaricom